ACROSS THE GENERATIONS,
men have usually wanted to take things apart to see how they come together. This applies to mechanical objects as well their relationships. The mechanical wrist watch, a turn of the 20th innovation on the pocket watch, has proven not merely a convenient way to be fashionably late, it is the branded handbag of 21st century masculine life.
But if Yves was right that fashion is passé and style is forever, then the wristwatch is no mere fashion but a remarkably resilient and profitable industry. Ricardo Guadalupe, the dynamic CEO of Hublot, the perpetual motion company, observes that the Swiss watch industry in the ’90s was worth several billion euros. It is now valued at around six times the figure then. There is life yet in the small patch of human real estate occupied by the wristwatch, says Guadalupe.
But will the industry survive Silicon Valley? The world’s most-valuable corporations are voracious in colonising the spaces they haven’t already “disrupted” and micro-segmented with big data and bigger venture capital. Across all its price points, even—or especially—haute horlogerie, the watch industry is undergoing a sea change in the way its products are designed, produced, distributed and sold. This change has its origin in how they are are now consumed, their visibility in mainstream life, and the social significance they have taken on, even for the man who could never afford an astonishingly inventive Hublot timepiece in a single lifetime.
Perhaps one day, with all that data about ourselves that we have given away to the social media platforms that sell them to their clients who sell the back to us, we will be able to buy watches customised by AI and expressed by a 3D printer at the touch of a button. They would be affordable because of a “free” content business model (because information, like a democracy, wants to be free, goes one the internet's great half-truths). But where is the fun in that? Will we care? Meanwhile, here is your shopping guide. Jason Tan Editor-in-chief